In 2012, Brazilian football saw a new generation of Brazilian youngsters come to the fore.
The likes of Oscar, Rômulo and (to some extent) Sandro have made the step up to stardom, leaving behind the tag of “promising youngster” to play major roles with both their clubs and the national team.
Defining the words “emerge” and “star” will always be tricky. However, for the purposes of this article, I intend to look at those players who should build upon their current status to fulfil one of three criteria.
Next year, I believe the players listed have the potential to either:
- Make an impact with the national team
- Attract major European interest
- Star at the coming major Under-20 international tournaments.
So, with that cleared up, which eight young players could make a substantial impact in 2013?
Voted the Brazilian Football Confederation's (CBF) Revelation of the Year, Bernard has already enjoyed a sensational 2012 in which he helped his Atlético side to second place in the league table.
Just 20 years old, Bernard has enjoyed linking up with veteran colleague Ronaldinho this campaign, with the duo offering a deadly attacking midfield partnership that churned out a combined 21 goals and 23 assists in the league alone.
Quick and nimble, Bernard will take his all-action game onto the Copa Libertadores stage for the first time in 2013 and will do so in the knowledge that a string of good performances could propel him into the reckoning for the Brazil national side.
Bernard is somewhat fortunate that with Neymar, Lucas Moura and Oscar around, he has been able to fly under the radar and avoid unwanted pressure.
Now, though, having made his breakthrough, he must try to steal some of the limelight from his much-vaunted colleagues.
Marquinhos' year could hardly have gone any better. Starting the season among Corinthians' Under-20 side, he has gone on to earn both a Copa Libertadores winners medal and a move to Italian giants AS Roma.
He may be just 18 years old, but his immediate impact on his new side has been profound. Within weeks of his debut, Marquinhos was already regarded by many supporters as the club's best centre-back—ahead of experienced Argentine Nicolas Burdisso and Brazil international Leandro Castán.
So profound has his impact been, that Roma have withdrawn their player from Brazil's squad for the South American Under-20 Championship in January. They simply cannot afford to lose his services for a possible seven fixtures.
Not to worry for the youngster, he will be available once more for the Under-20 World Cup in the summer. The senior national team may still be a distant dream, but there will be a surge in demand for his selection if his performance levels continue.
Read more on Marquinhos' rise to prominence here.
Another Brazilian centre-back who could very well start the new year in Italy's Serie A is Botafogo's Dória, with the finishing touches on an €8 million deal to join Juventus currently being put in place.
The 18-year-old was one of the surprise packages of the Brazilian championship, having headed a group of talented youngsters into the Botafogo first-team and performed with a maturity that truly belied his tender years.
Like Marquinhos, Dória relies on his composure and reading of the game to succeed. Reports from the Botafogo camp also suggest that he is a hard-worker and has all the mental attributes to kick on to become an excellent footballer.
Details of his move to Juventus are not clear, with Internet speculation suggesting he may move in the summer. It will be a challenge to get playing time in Turin, but any unconvinced Juventini will soon discover that they have a potentially excellent defender on their hands.
Wellington Nem was the CBF's Revelation of the Year in 2011, while on a year-long loan at over-performing Figueirense. He returned to his parent club this season and continued his quiet, if unspectacular development.
That assessment may, indeed, be a little harsh, as the attacking midfielder did play an important role in Fluminense's title-winning side, but there is a feeling that he didn't show his individual talents quite as much as he may have hoped.
That said, at the start of the season there was uncertainty as to how much game time the 20-year-old would be afforded, so to keep his spot in the starting lineup all campaign is, in itself, no small achievement.
Next year, though, will be a big challenge for the youngster. As with Bernard, a good performance in the Copa Libertadores could thrust him into the vision of Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari ahead of the Confederations Cup.
If he has any desire to play at the upcoming World Cup, Wellington Nem must up his game in the next six months and hope that his Fluminense side can also make a considerable impact in continental competition.
The rise of 22-year-old Rafael Tolói is a strange one. On the one hand, he has long been regarded as one of the finest young defenders in Brazil and, on the other hand, he has acquired a reputation for making occasional mistakes.
The centre-back has, though, enjoyed a very good year in 2012, particularly since joining São Paulo from Goiás back in July.
São Paulo were a frustrating team early in the season under Emerson Leão but the arrival of Tolói and manager Ney Franco, as well as the return from injury of midfielder Wellington, saw them finish the year in fine style.
The Paulista giants had the best defensive record of the second half of the season and went on to win the Copa Sudamericana, another tournament in which the side's back-four showed great solidity against a high standard of opposition.
World Cup winner Lúcio has signed with the club for 2013 and it is Tolói, not the more experienced Rhodolfo who he is set to partner. Another impressive year with São Paulo and Tolói may be considering a bright future at club and international level.
Another of those heading to the South American Under-20 championship in January, Bruno Mendes shot to prominence in late 2012 following a move from Série B side Guarani to Carioca giants Botafogo in September.
Following six goals in just eight fixtures as the season drew to its conclusion, that deal has now been made permanent, and the young centre-forward will return to the Engenhão-based side for the 2013 campaign.
Anyone who saw the striker's first few performances for Botafogo would have been amazed to discover that he is still just 18 years old, as he led the line with a composure and authority that few possess at such an early age.
European interest quickly followed, and Italian champions Juventus were among those most heavily linked, but for the time being there is little chance of Bruno leaving the Brazilian game.
With the Brazilian No. 9 shirt very much up for grabs in the coming years, there will no doubt be a few interested parties from the CBF keeping a very close eye on his development in the days and months to follow.
A well-known name to many European football fans, Adryan has long been tipped for greatness and, aged just 16, opted against a move to Premier League giants Manchester United.
Chaotic scenes at Flamengo this season limited the youngster's first-team involvement, but there were glimpses of the special talent that Adryan possesses—a talent that lit up the 2011 Under-17 World Cup in Mexico.
A likely starter for Brazil's Under-20 side in Argentina in January, Adryan will hope to use that competition to press his claims for more senior football, and the early-season state championships should allow for that possibility.
Adryan offers the ability to play as a classical No. 10, but has thus far been used more as a second-striker in his senior career. It may be that it is from this role that the 18-year-old must prove he is ready for further responsibility.
Time is on Adryan's side, and there is no need to be considering a move to Europe at this point. The youngster must focus on establishing himself at Flamengo, and recent talk of a new contract is a promising sign in this respect.
As mentioned before, the return of Wellington from injury was one of the turning points of São Paulo's season, with the dynamic central-midfielder offering the side a fine balance to the heart of the side's midfield alongside Arsenal's loanee Denilson.
A powerful runner when thrusting forward, Wellington is just one of a long line of Brazilian box-to-box midfielders to have emerged in recent years. His versatility, stamina and strength are valuable assets to any side and could see him challenge for a national team place in the future.
But, what really separates Wellington from many of his competitors is his timing of the tackle.
Blessed with superb acceleration, the São Paulo man is frequently able to recover quickly to steal away possession from opponents. So good is his timing of the tackle that he rarely needs to demonstrate his considerable strength to dispossess his rival.
Since the transfer of Jádson to São Paulo, 30 percent of Wellington's economic rights have been owned by Ukranian side Shakhtar Donetsk. A move to Europe at a later date, then, may well be on the cards, but first Wellington will hope to continue his fine form into the 2013 Copa Libertadores.
Once more, a strong showing in that competition could propel the player into the minds of Brazil's selectors ahead of the 2014 World Cup, although that competition may come too soon for the 21-year-old.